Supporting small businesses to fill Hyattsville storefronts
By Winter Hawk and Kit Slack
The resilience and vibrancy of Hyattsville’s small businesses attracted attention during the pandemic. Hyattsville has gained nearly as many businesses as it has lost, according to a recent city-commissioned report.
Still, window-shopping is not everything it might be this holiday season. De Clichy Menswear and the Tiered and Petite bakery are among the businesses whose windows have gone dark — then there are the storefronts that have been empty since long before the pandemic began.
The City of Hyattsville is launching a new strategic plan to help businesses that already have space in Hyattsville, and support them in hiring more workers. The city also plans to eventually help startups get into available retail spaces.
A local real estate company, Go Brent Realty, has a new plan, too; in addition to selling houses, they are now also seeking to fill those empty storefronts.
Owning a retail-focused property is a business in and of itself, according to Daniel Simon, who owns four buildings in Hyattsville, including the building housing Vigilante Coffee Company, on Gallatin Street, and Sangfroid Distilling, on Baltimore Avenue. Simon is also president of Rankin Upholstery, a Gaithersburg business specializing in auto upholstery.
For building owners like Simon, the goal is to have tenants with thriving businesses. “[The] renter really needs to demonstrate that they have a plan B, that they’ve done business in the past and have a background in what they’re doing,” he noted. He said all too often people look to shove a pet project into an available space, rather than propose a business tailored to the features of a property.
“A property owner needs to hold hands with a business owner and work with them in a diligent fashion to help get them on their feet and support them before they can expect to make any money as a property owner.” Simon added, “Dealing with the county is a whole nother animal.”
Go Brent launches a commercial initiative
Go Brent, based in Silver Spring, is working to support a range of local businesses that qualify for class C real estate so that they can get into buildings along the Route 1 Corridor, according to Liz Brent, the company’s founder. Class C commercial spaces are older, smaller properties often found in downtown areas.
“A lot of people who live in those communities feel like there’s a lot of potential in beauty and accessibility [of these properties]. … They also tend to be what somebody just starting out can afford to occupy,” Brent explained. “So when you put those people in those buildings, it’s a catalyst. … It becomes what people love about where they live.”
But sometimes business owners have to do a lot of digging to find out who owns a building, why it is vacant and what a potential renter needs to do to secure the space.
That’s where Go Brent comes in. The company advocates for business owners, helping them contact property owners. Go Brent then helps clients market themselves to property owners and negotiate leases, according to Hannah McCann, the Go Brent commercial agent leading the company’s initiative.
“We’ve started trying to make a very professional presentation for our clients, even if they’re just a brand-new business,” McCann said. Go Brent highlights narratives and key points about a client’s financials, emphasizing its strengths to property owners, she explained.
Moving forward, Go Brent hopes to coordinate with government officials and building owners in Hyattsville to negotiate leases that are mutually beneficial to property and business owners.
Hyattsville’s business retention and expansion strategy
On Nov. 15, Jim Chandler, Hyattsville’s director of community and economic development, presented the city council with a draft of the new Hyattsville Business Retention and Expansion Strategy. Retail strategists Bobby Boone (of &Access) and Heather Arnold (of Via Metrics) drafted and presented the strategy.
According to Chandler, the city council is expected to vote on the strategic plan in January 2022.
The plan was developed with feedback from roughly 40 local business owners and details three stages.
During the first stage, within one to three years, the city would hire a small business administrator to monitor and support businesses that are looking to expand, downsize, or apply for loans or grants.
At a business roundtable in October, some business owners resisted the idea of the city hiring a small business administrator to monitor them, according to Arnold. But Boone and Arnold still recommend staffing the position for businesses who need the support.
The city would also connect small businesses to workforce development programs, and might also reduce taxes and license fees for small businesses to promote job creation.
According to Arnold, employment in the city declined by more than 1,200 positions between 2019 and 2020. Workforce development could help small businesses employ more people and manage wages as the pandemic stretches on.
In the second stage of the plan, within three to five years, the city would identify low-rent properties available to local businesses. To get start-up businesses into brick-and-mortar spaces, the city would also help negotiate lower-than-market-price rent for vacant buildings.
Arnold and Boone recommend extending the University of Maryland’s Route 113 shuttle to the Gateway Arts District, during this second stage, to give residents and students easy access to the city’s commercial district. The city would provide free bus passes to Hyattsville residents.
In stage three, by the fifth year of the plan’s implementation, the city would improve pedestrian walkways, increase metro ridership and look into shared workspace for small businesses.
During the Nov. 15 presentation, City Councilmember Joanne Waszcak (Ward 1) said that after the business roundtable, some small business owners told her they were interested in a deeper survey of businesses and in better understanding the strategic plan’s recommendations.